W.A. Grain & Pulse Solutions:
In the global food industry, W.A. Grain & Pulse Solutions (W.A. Grain) is accelerating at a rapid rate in the pulse market –lentils, peas and fava beans- a relatively new sector when the company launched in 2007. Based in Innisfail, Alberta, W.A. Grain claimed 18th on Profit 500’s list of fastest-growing companies in Canada.
Since March 2007, the family-run operation has been buying, selling and processing agricultural commodities, mainly pulses, but also grains and oilseeds, all over the world as one of the most prominent in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Founded by Chris and Tracey Chivilo, W.A. Grain formed to buy and sell export-quality green and yellow peas.
“I’ve been in the agricultural commodity business for 39 years,” tells Chris Chivilo, CEO of W.A. Grain. “I’ve worked for the industry giants- Cargill and United Grain Growers. This is where I was introduced to the pulse business. When W.A. Grain started, we were one of the few pulse buyers in western Canada.”
Relationships to count on
That market has certainly changed over the last eight years; “The scene is very competitive now,” compares Chivilo. “We’ve grown to be one of the serious players though and we did it pretty much by word-of-mouth, with very little advertising in the beginning. We let the word spread from farmer to farmer.”
Chivilo says family ownership is part of the fabric of W.A. Grain and it shines through in respect to relationships. “We tend to look at the farmers situation, at least as much as ourselves,” he says. “We like to think of the farmer or the producer as a working partner, not just a supplier to be abused when we feel we can abuse them.”
It’s about paying a little more mind to the little guy. “We pay more attention to grassroots needs than larger companies and there’s a strong focus on relationships with producers and buyers,” says Chivilo. “We have no problem selling everything we can buy and that goes hand in hand with relationships. We try to give our customers that extra attention.”
As a result, W.A. Grain now owns four locations and maintains third-party agreements with 15 plants in Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. “Before, we owned three locations and leased two,” says Chivilo. “As we’ve grown, W.A. Grain has purchased four locations and we’re expecting to own a fifth within the next couple of months.”
Volumes have increased steadily year after year and in May 2013, W.A. Grain bought its first Saskatchewan processing facility in Vanguard. Since W.A. Grain has also built a processing facility in Bowden, Alberta and also purchased Bashaw Processors in Bashaw, Alberta.
An international customer base
As one of the first pulse buyers in the western Canada commodity market, W.A. Grain was also first to develop the global markets the company now ships to. “We were the first to develop the markets we’re currently shipping to –especially in green peas and fava beans,” says Chivilo. “We have buyers all over the world –India, China, Columbia, Egypt- and we’re looking into developing sales in the Middle East and Europe. We also have a salesman on a trade mission to Mexico as we speak.”
W.A. Grain now has 52 employees between sales, customer service, processing and administration. The company now handles pulses, grain cereals and oilseed types and varieties. “We source directly from the growers and process and clean the products ourselves and ship them worldwide,” explains Chivilo.
Chivilo says W.A. Grain has nearly doubled in size every year since inception. “We’ve doubled every year until about 2013,” he says. “We were recently named the 18th fastest-growing company in Canada by Profit 500, growing at a rate of 2,900 percent. Our second year in operation we hit $3 million in sales and now we’re up around $110 million.”
Chivilo says the challenge in such rapid growth is managing working capital and keeping pace with demand. “In the last year, we’ve totally remodeled two cleaning and processing plants complete with color sorters, air-screen machines and storage,” he says. “We’ve added rail siding in Alberta, capable of loading 25 cars.”
Chivilo says the company is looking to get into more value-added products, allowing W.A. Grain to extract more value from pulse fractions. “We’re also in the feasibility stage of another major project that could double our capacity over the next 12 months,” he reveals.
But exceptional growth doesn’t come easy, Chivilo says the right team is a pivotal part of the process. “Our employees are all on the same wave length on how to treat customers; it’s about treating everyone how you want to be treated,” he considers.
This family-centered business model has allowed the company to shine in a crowded market. “In January 2015 we were ranked number 14 in Alberta’s Venture Growth standings,” adds Chivilo.
By focusing on people, from the producer to the buyer, W.A. Grain & Pulse Solutions has secured a top spot in ag-commodities in western Canada.